This anthology of previously never anthologised ghost stories is a gem of a find and is the first of the British Library’s Tales of the Weird series that I’ve read in full.
There are eighteen stories here from the late 19th century to the 1920s and cover all aspects of ‘horror’, from creeping supernatural to moody atmospheres that unsettle rather than terrify. That’s the joy of the genre, really, in that it can run the gamut without getting tiresome. We have everything from Gothic hauntings to Mesopotamian adventure stories; the editor is right to say that the last one could make a good Indiana Jones movie.
What I found especially interesting is how fresh and contemporary the stories feel. True, some of the settings are of their time, like duels with rapiers and the like or some dubious attitudes by male characters toward women (such as ‘The River’s Edge’ by Mary Schultze), but the actual writing styles are typically engaging and fluid.
As I’ve mentioned the fact that these stories have never been included in a book since their initial publication makes it part archaeological/archival retrieval. There’s a bio and potted history of each writer but some of the authors have no history that can be found, despite the editor’s efforts by going through census and other records to try and match bylines to verifiable historical figures.
There is something well, ghostly, about an author such as Eric Purves (whose story ‘The House of the Black Veil’ is one of the more innovative pieces) now existing solely in reference to the single story he/she/they seem to have published. Ashely in his intro to that story notes that “When John Reed Wade, the editor of Pearson’s Magazine, ran the following story in the May 1929 issue, he announced it as ‘One of the most original mystery stories ever written.” And yet there is no trace of any other Purves work. Was it a pseudonym? We’ll never know.
Not every reader will like every story, which is natural enough in an anthology, but lovers of ghost stories will have plenty to hold their interest here.